Monday, January 17, 2011

A Lesson In Disbudding Goat Horns

Well, we went out to the barn at around 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon and came in at 8:30.  Is was really cold outside but inside the barn wearing winter gear it wasn't so bad.  There is still some work to do today but we were thrilled with everything we accomplished yesterday.  It's really starting to look like a barn out there.  I know that sounds strange but if you saw how huge our barn is and saw the little area where we kept the goats and donkeys you'd understand.  Now we have more than doubled their space and we will be able to separate the two.  This is important for when the babies arrive.  The donkeys won't understand right away that the babies are not intruders and guard donkeys have been known to stomp new kids to death thinking they are protecting their herd.  Madeline said she even saw Dexter pick up and throw our beloved barn cat Jake!  The goats will have the new run area all to themselves.  Today the plan is to shut the gate that divides the two areas and put up new hay feeders for the donks since we moved the big feeder to the new run.  Now we can control the donkeys portion and we will be getting them some hay that isn't so legume rich.  Right now they are sharing the goats alfalfa mix and they really only require a good grass hay.  All that alfalfa will just make them fat.  Then we can really get an idea of how much the goats are actually eating and what the donks needs are.  The good news is that the hay for the donks is considerably cheaper than the alfalfa mix for the goats.  Now all we have left to do is put up at least three kidding stalls in the next couple weeks and we will officially be ready.  I also talked to a friend from our 4H club and she gave me some great advice on how to tag the kids and tattoo them.  She also offered to come over and show us how to disbud them.  Good thing she told me that it is required for showing meat goats in Rice county.  They just passed the new rule this year and I would not have known which means we would have beeen ineligible for showing because we were not planning to disbud the Boer herd.  It is typical to disbud any dairy breed but meat goats are usually permitted horns.  Dairy breeds have different horn conformation.  They tend to grow up while Boers have more rounded horns that follow the contour of their heads. 
Disbudding means to burn off the bud of the horn before they begin to grow.  It sounds really awful and it is.  Initially we were adament that we would not disbud a goat.  Then we lived with them for a while.  Our goats are all very tame but as our herd grows we can expect a little more conflict between herd members.  In this picutre you can see the typical Saanen profile with horns straight up.  They are really good at getting them stuck in the fence.  A kid with her head stuck in the fence and goes unnoticed for a couple of hours would most likely get stressed and die.  We also install special fencing with smaller spaces at the bottom to help prevent this from happening. 
Here is a fine example of a Boer head as an adult and a four month old kid whose horns are just beginning to grow.  Daisy, the mom, is about a year and half old in this picture.  She is two now and her horns are a little bigger.  He daughter Buttercup is just beginning to have a little growth in this picture and today they are about the same size as her mothers in the photo.  These photos were taken in May.  So you can see how easy it would be to have your eye poked out with a horn.  In fact, just recently my dear little Daisy gave me a big fat lip with those horns.  She is generally a gentle girl but she did not enjoy the invasion of her privacy when I was checking her belly and udder for baby monitoring.  Our Rent-A-Buck, Rocky had some really nice horns!
Notice the slightly outward curve?  Those are really good for rubbing up against you and leaving some pretty nasty bruises on your legs!  Or darn your luck if you happened to be standing too close when he decided to back up into you and spears you with one of those!  No ill intent, they just got in the way sometimes.  You may also be able to see in the photo the spot behind his horn where no hair would grow because every time he turns his head those horns would rub against his neck.  The day we picked him up there was a little scuffle in the buck pen and one of his buddies poked him in the side with his horn and left a nice little hole in his rear.  It bled for two days.  So don't get me wrong I am certainly not advocating for the removal of all goat horns but I think it's the right decision for our herd.  We will only disbud the goats we intend to keep.  All others will be left intact.  I should also mention here that you should not remove a goats horns once they have grown.  They are actually an extension of their scull.  They are hollow inside but contain a large supply of blood to them.  Their purpose is to help regulate their body temperature and of course they are their first means of defense in the wild against predators. This link contains an article and some very graphic pictures of a buck who was injured and lost one of his horns.  This is a life threatening injury to a goat.  The hole that you see is actually the passage to his sinus cavity.  They can bleed to death and infection is an obvious concern.  Disbudding is not without danger.  It is important to have someone who has experience disbudding help you.  When done incorrectly goats can actually grow spurs.  The spurs have to kept trimmed so that they do not become too long and break off.   Spurs are different than horns in that they are not firmly attached to the scull but can actually be so loose you can wiggle them.  Lilly, our Alpine cross has a couple of spurs.  They break very easily. 

Disbudding is not something to take lightly.  It is a great debate in the goat community.  Initially I was intending to become an advocate for the discontinuation of disbudding for 4H projects and shows.  I certaintly haven't done a complete 180 but I do see that sometimes it can be beneficial for the animal as well.  If you have ever seen a couple of Saanens really go at it you may be more likely to undersand.  The noise their heads make when they crash together is horrible.  I have also experienced a situation where my little beloved baby Snowy was being bullied by another goat and the goats horn got stuck in Snowy's collar.  I'm so thankful that I was standing right there because I'm sure it would not have been a good outcome for Snowy.  As a result I no longer keep collars on my girls either.  It makes it much easier to catch and handle them but at what cost?  It's not an easy decision but if you intend to keep goats it will be one you will have to make as well.

1 comment:

  1. Michelle - Thank you for stopping by my blog, feel free to comment whenever you want as all opinions are welcome. Interesting you are talking about disbudding as this year will be the first time I have to give it a try. I am nervous and if you post about your lesson I would be very interested.